A critical analysis of a popular culture is pursued with a specific purpose, for example, to explore the image of prosecutors in courtroom dramas, to examine the image of judges as cultural symbols, or to analyze the notion of crime in popular culture. As novice critical interpreters of popular culture, when students—particularly lower year students—read a popular culture text, they do not have a purpose of their own. They approach the text because their teachers tell them to do so. So, as discussed in Chapter 2, we need to create problems, questions, or situations that students will feel motivated to solve or answer, and for which finding the solution or answer will create the need to interpret popular culture texts. In this case, students will approach a text in order to do something other than view the text to comply with external requirements or to have firn.


Popular culture texts are never produced in isolation. They have implicit and explicit connections to other texts. The content creator9 refers to other films, TV shows, theater plays, songs, articles, or books. Thus, the meaning of a text does not depend solely on the content of the text itself. It depends in large part on its relations with these other—prior, contemporary, and subsequent—discourses (del Rosal, 2009). But students, particularly those in the lower years, ignore most of these connections. So, they need to become aware of the importance of identifying these connections. One of the most important connections is the context. Understanding the context helps students understand the background, environment, and circumstances in which the popular culture story was produced. In order

’I will use the term content creator to refer to all creators of popular culture stories, including directors, writers, composers, and authors. Similarly, I will use the term viewer to refer to the reader, listener, and audience of a popular culture story.

to analyze the context of any given text, students need to be encouraged to do some research about the authors, producers, directors, and actors. Students need to analyze the audience of the text as well as when and where the text was created.

Table 6.1 defines the possible connections of a popular culture text with other texts. Although some of these connections may not be present in all popular culture stories, awareness of these possible connections which a text may have facilitates critical interpretation of popular culture texts.

TABLE 6.1 Connections of a Text.


The information explicitly provided by the content creator.


The historical, cultural, political, and social background of the text.


The content creator’s purpose, agenda, and voice.


The connections between the text and other texts.

  • • Horizontal intertext: the connections between the viewer and the content creator.
  • • Vertical intertext: the connections between the text and other texts (prior, contemporary, and subsequent).



The links to other texts or to other parts of the text.

The ideological asstunptions which the viewer brings to the text.

The repressed text

The texts that the content creator consciously or unconsciously fails to consider and incorporate in his or her text.


Popular culture texts assume certain concepts, ideas, and principles. They rely on the knowledge that is already common among many viewers of popular culture stories. Students need to be aware that they need to uncover these assumptions. If they do not know some of these taken-for-granted ideas and concepts, they need to investigate them.

Another important factor in helping students become immersed in the critical interpretation of popular culture stories is knowledge backgr ound. Hirsch refers to this knowledge background as cultural literacy, which he defines as “the network of information that all competent readers possess. It is the backgr ound information, stored in their minds, that enables them to pick up a newspaper and read it with an adequate level of comprehension, getting the point, grasping the implications, relating what they read to the unstated context, which alone gives meaning to what they read” (Hirsch, 1987). We need to know where students are and help them both activate and increase their knowledge background. The richer their knowledge backgr ound is, the deeper then’ understanding of a popular culture story is.


Students also need to learn how to identify the message or messages of the popular culture story Students need to learn how to identify the main message and the elements the content creator uses to advance this message. One of the most important aspects of critical interpretation of popular culture stories is evaluating the message. Many students tend to view popular culture stories without ever questioning them. Thus, students need to learn to challenge the messages popular culture stories convey. Another factor that helps students evaluate the message consists of identifying the hidden or repressed texts or ideas. In most popular culture stories, the author consciously or unconsciously ignores or fails to consider other ideas, angles, and arguments that directly or indirectly deal with the text’s message. Uncovering these repressed ideas helps students better assess the message by considering the full spectrum of ideas, concepts, and arguments that surround the message the content creator of the popular culture story is hying to make.

It is also important to recognize the effects that the message directly or indirectly produces on the viewer and to analyze whether the content creator intends to produce those effects in the audience.


Stereotyping is an oversimplified view of a group. Stereotyping is a narrative convention frequently used in popular culture. It helps the content creator with the rhythm of the story as he or she does not have to explain all the features of a character. The content creator simply gives the character the characteristics of the group. In most cases, stereotyping embraces racist beliefs (Quintana, 2015). For example, if the perpetrator of a robbery is a poor Mexican illegal alien, the popular culture story is using a stereotype that many Mexican illegal aliens are criminals. This, of course, does not reflect the fact that the overwhelming majority of Mexican illegal aliens are not criminal offenders.

The negative effects of stereotypes are not only “the repetition of distorted imagery, but also the omission of diverse imagery” (Alsultany, 2013). If popular culture stories depict only white mainstream males as successful, rich, and educated, they transmit the message that people from other backgrounds are not successful. Students need to recognize stereotyping in popular culture stories. At the same time, they need to be aware of the power relations that the stereotyping conveys in the story.

TABLE 6.2 General Categories of Analysis for the Interpretation of Popular Culture Texts.

  • 1. What is the purpose for reading/viewing this text? Is it entertaining? Is it to explore an approach, theory, or concept? Is it to imderstand an aspect described or referr ed to in the text?
  • 2. What are the connections to other texts? What is the relation of the text with other—prior, contemporary, and subsequent—texts?
  • 3. What is the context of the text? What are the background, environment, and circumstances in which the content creator produced the text?
  • 4. What assumptions does the text make? What does it take for granted? What do I need to know to uncover these assumptions?
  • 5. What is the message of the text? What does the content creator want to tell the audience? What are the flaws of this message? What are the consequences of this message? What media language conventions, such as camera movements, backgroimds, lighting, editing, music, among others, does the content creator use to convey the message? What effect does the message have on me? Does the content creator intend to prodtrce those effects in the audience?
  • 6. What stereotypes does the text make? What generalizations does it make? Is the stereotype accurate? Is diverse imagery omitted? Who has been omitted? What group has been repressed? What relations of power does the text transpire?
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